My first Kimjang at home! (Tips on brining cabbage for Kimchi)

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cbrined cabbages for Kimjang Kimchi

brined/salted Korean napa cabbages for Kimjang Kimchi

About this time last year I helped my mother-in-law’s Kimjang at her house and in return, I brought home couple containers of her yummy Kimjang. This year, I decided that it was time I tried it all on my own. I was a bit worried that I may not be able to handle the large amount of ingredients but hey, you have to take risks in life, right?

In late September, after my potato harvest, we planted Korean cabbages (배추 Baechoo), radishes (무우 Moo), Korean leeks (대파 Daepa) and mustard greens(갓 kaat) at our family farm for Kimjang.

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After about 2 months, they were ready for picking. These pictures were taken around 11/20 or so. I came home with 16 cabbages, 9 radishes and a huge bunch of mustard greens. Also about two large bunches of Korean leeks.  I bought the rest from the market.

Because I basically used the same Kimjang kimchi recipe from last year I will not list it again here. However, I will write more in depth about prep work- especially brining/salting cabbages. I know I mentioned in my last year’s post how most people just buy already brined cabbages (절임 배추 jeorim baechoo) because people say that’s the most difficult part of Kimjang both in terms of complexity and effort. You can use these tips for pickling cabbages in making regular small batch Kimchi at home.

How to brine (pickle) Korean napa cabbage (배추 baechoo) for Kimchi:

Ingredients

  • 5 KOREAN NAPA CABBAGES (about 6 lb/2.7 kg each)
  • 14 Cups or 5 lb/2.3 kg coarse SEA SALT (bitterns removed)
  • 70 Cups/16.5 litre/17.5 qt cold or lukewarm WATER
  • 1 gallon size bowl
  • 1 giant container or bathtub to hold cabbages while they are brined
  • 1 giant strainer/colander to drain brined cabbages

 

Directions

  1. Clean cabbage – Clean and cut away any outer leaves that are too damaged, brown or dirty. Most likely, your local market will sell already cleaned cabbages in which case need to do nothing.                                                        **Make sure you leave some good greenish outer leaves so you can use it to wrap the kimchi at the end.
    Cleaning cabbage for Kimjang kimchi

    Cleaning cabbage for Kimjang kimchi

    Note how large the baechoo is on the left compared to the cleaned and cut ones on the right.

  2. Cut each cabbage in half. Tip for cutting cabbage for Kimchi: just cut about 1/3 of the bottom half (from the root end) and rip apart by hand. Like so –
    How to cut Kimjang cabbage baechoo in half

    How to cut Kimjang cabbage baechoo in half

    It won’t be a huge disaster if you cut it all the way with a knife but it’s just easier this way and also you will not end up wasting cabbage pieces.

  3. In a large container, dissolve about 8 C of salt and 17 1/2 quarts/70 Cups of cold or lukewarm water for the brine. Reserve remaining 6 C salt for sprinkling. Please read my Kimjang tips post on discussion about salt. Solar sea salt is best if you can get them.
  4. Put cabbages in brine (made in step 3) – make sure the brine seeps fully into the cabbage by spreading out the leaves with your hands and swirling it around.

    soaking cabbage in brine for Kimchi

    soaking cabbage in brine for Kimchi

  5. Leave cabbages in brine for 2~3 hrs until the leaves start to get soft.
  6. When leaves are soft, For each 1/2 cabbage, REPEAT the following 3 steps:
    1. Take each cabbage out and let it drain for couple seconds and put in a bowl. DO NOT discard the brine because you will be putting cabbages back later on.
    2. Get a handful of salt from the remaining 6 C and sprinkle (more like spraying) the salt in between leaves of each 1/2 cabbage, starting from the outer leaves.  Aiming the salt mostly on the thick, white fleshy part of the cabbage.
    3. Put salted cabbages back into the brine.
    • Salting cabbage for Kimchi

      Salting cabbage for Kimchi

      ** We do this because the thick white fleshy part takes longer and more salt to pickle. You only need about 1/2 cup or less for each 1/2 cabbage. You may not need to do this if your cabbage has very thin white flesh or if you want to make your kimchi less salty.

7. Let cabbages sit in brine for another 10~12 hrs. Making sure cabbages are evenly pickled by rotating the ones on the top with the ones in the bottom, every 4 hrs or so.

salted cabbage in tub for Kimchi

salted cabbage in tub for Kimchi

8. Next morning, the white part of the cabbage should be fully bendable like so-

soft pickled cabbage

soft pickled cabbage

9. Rinse cabbages 2~3 times thoroughly. Let cabbages drain for 1 hr or so. Place the cut side down when draining.

Now you are ready to make the seasoning and finish up the Kimchi!

Most modern Kimchi recipes tell you to brine cabbages for 6-8 hrs (at room temp) but traditionally, Kimjang cabbages were pickled overnight in cold winter weather. In my opinion brining overnight works better simply in terms of scheduling because you can start brining cabbages at night time and then finish making Kimjang kimchi the next morning. If you brine them for only 6-8 hrs, then you either end up making Kimchi at wee hours of the night or you end up starting the pickling process after midnight.

None of which is fun..

So in my case, I washed and cleaned all the vegetables first during the day and then started pickling the baechoo (cabbage) in our bathtub around 7pm. Which meant I could rinse it around 8 am next morning.

Well, now you have it! With my tips on how to pickle/brine Korean cabbages for Kimchi, you should be able to make a very delicious Kimchi anytime!

About the BRINE:

  • Pickling in 15% salt solution is the traditional standard for Kimchi cabbages. Recent trend is to make it less salty and many Koreans now pickle at 10~12 % salt solution. e.g. If you want to make a 10 C brine solution, you can mix 8 1/2 C of water and 1 1/2 C salt. This is not an exact formula for making 15% but that’s what many people use to make things simpler. The 15% salt solution is pretty much similar to sea water. In fact, in some coastal areas, Koreans pickle their cabbages in sea water instead.
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